Singrauli Case: Have We Lost The Sense Of Social Responsibility?

 By Somik Jindal, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies

What happened?

On April 10, 2020 a poisonous slurry flood mixed with the toxic residue of coal ash and other materials breached the dyke (dam) of Sasan Ultra Mega Thermal Power Project (UMPP) of Reliance Company in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh near village Harrahva, leading to massive destruction to livelihood, rivers and large tracts of agricultural fields in that area. This massive flood of toxic sludge affected and destroyed many villages and crops of few acres. People were trapped in their homes and out of six people being feared of getting killed, dead bodies of two were found in that area while four are still missing. 

This horrendous incident is the third such taking place in that area in the last one year. In August 2019, there was a breach of fly ash pond from the dyke of Essar’s Mahan Power Company leading to damage of crops and then a similar incident occurred in October 2019 where the outflow of poisonous fly ash sludge breached the Vindhyachal super thermal power plant owned by NTPC. Many such coal-based power project plants are operating in that area that collect such sludge in their reservoirs making Singrauli area “severely polluted” and ranking Madhya Pradesh amongst the top five states in terms of fly ash generation according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) assessment in India.

The Predicament of people living in the Region

K.S. Sharma, convenor of the Udvasit Kisan Mazdoor Parishad, an organization fighting for the rights of the citizens residing in that region, reckoned that a quantity of around 15,000 to 16,000 metric tons of coal is burnt to generate 1,000 MW of electricity over a period of 24 hours. Around 5,000 to 6,000 tons of fly ash is generated as waste in one plant alone. Combining the capacity of all thermal power plants in that particular region, electricity of around 20,000 MW is generated per day. This indicates that at least one lakh tons of fly ash is renerated daily from these plants when they are operated to their full potential.

Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) criticises the ongoing situation in Singrauli and pointed that the region has nearly 23 GW (gigawatts) installed coal-based capacity which is greater than 11% of the total installed capacity in the country. This over installation produces dirty energy sources which result in loss of livelihood of villagers, water sources and crops being contaminates. Many of the families choose to migrate to other areas leaving behind their work and starting from the scratch, and hence proving to be a curse for the people living in the region. Also, “this current case of dyke breach should not be considered as a one-off accident or a minor incident of non-compliance,” said Kanchi Kohli, legal researcher, Centre for Policy Research. Many other areas are critically contaminated and polluted because of the greedy and selfish causes of  big businessmen. Their aim is profit-making regardless  of the sufferance being caused to another person. An ongoing nationwide lockdown is already causing predicament in the lives of people and such contemporary cases make it worse for these people. Who will compensate them for this loss? 
District Administration and Company’s Response towards such Incidents in Singrauli.

Reports suggest serious negligence on the part of Reliance Power Company. A protest was held by locals last year against the ash leak by Reliance Power Plant. The company assured them in writing that there would be no breach in the dam. District Magistrate and collector conducted various checks and also assured them of the same. Despite that, there was a leak. The district administration is to be blamed and it is pertinent to ask what actions did state government had taken against the companies and for the right of the people who suffered due to earlier such incidents. No surveys were being conducted by the district commission about the damage done to crops and agriculture caused by the fly ash slurry flood as alleged by Roop Narayan Singh, sarpanch of village Siddhi Khurd. Further, the company did not follow proper guidelines for the construction of dykes for the containment of fly ash. Fly ash is a common phenomenon that occurs from these thermal plants and knowing the fact of it being detrimental to the health of people there are no stringent safety measures against such and no governmental effort assessing the impact of it. Also, there is no change or environmental friendly alternatives available to the companies with regard to such ash dams.

What are the norms and actions to prevent the incidents like this?

The Central Water Commission is an expert body on dams and if the thermal power plants are strictly going to follow notifications and rules of the central government’s environment ministry chances of occurrence of such incidents may reduce. The Union Ministry of Environment & Forests had issued a notification in November 2009 which contained a set of detailed guidelines which bind the use of fly ash, within a specified radius of 100 km from lignite or coal based thermal power plants. This also contains a period of timelines in which all thermal power projects have to dispose of the fly ash scientifically generated in their plants, avoiding any kind of adverse environmental impact. It is a time-consuming and expensive procedure to dispose of fly ash scientifically but is pivotal for the wellbeing of society.


A company’s main objective is profit-making but it also owes duties to the society from where it generates its resources and thus making social responsibility a major component for businesses. If a company has a bad image in a society it will be detrimental for it in many aspects and for improving it, certain actions need to be taken such as proper disposal of the industrial waste, providing adequate compensation to the people suffering because of their acts. Nowadays social responsibility is seen as the best asset for the company to grow and they have been taking adequate steps to fulfil their part in society. Thus the question of a sense of social responsibility is answered through the actions of the company itself.  


Ayaskant Das, Singrauli's Fly Ash Flood was an Industrial Disaster Waiting to Happen, NEWSCLICK, (Apr 16, 2020) <>.

Jayashree Nandi, Third ash-pond disaster in Singrauli in one year, THE HINDUSTAN TIMES, (Apr 11, 2020) <>.

Anup Dutta, Fly ash slurry in Singrauli contaminates water reservoir after taking lives and homes, MONGABAY, (Apr 29, 2020) <>.

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